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This is Mel writing first.  India and Nepal were such a joy to discover that we would like to take you all with us.  People have inquired about India and Nepal and we always stammer.  “Did you like it?” That is not an easy question to answer.  We loved the variety and the complete uniqueness of the place.  Each day brought a new and usually surprising cultural experience.  We loathed the filth, bureaucracy, crowd’s, getting felt up (Mel only), travel on buses or trains and getting sick from the food.  Having said all that we want to go back, again and again.  It is a magical place that despite all draws one in.  We could have snapped a million pictures.  You’ll never see it all.


In Varanasi we saw a scale model of India showing a topographical representation.  It is amazing to see India’s topography.  Basically, most of the country is a huge flat plain with a few foothills.  As you head north and cross into Nepal, the Himalayas rise up from nowhere creating a wall of incredibly high mountains.  These mountains and the jungle at their base was enough to keep the British (and just about everyone else) out of Nepal.  This lends to the extreme diversity of the place, each topography lending its own culture.


If you want to follow along and get an Idea of exactly where we were, check out this web site.  Just enter the name of the place and it will take you there.




This is a joint effort for the first installment of our trip.


3 Sept – 13 Oct 1997



Refreshed from a two-week stay in Hong Kong, staying at the Mirador Arcade in air conditioned, satellite TV, refrigerator stocked comfort; eating regularly at Delifrance, McDonalds, Hard Rock Café, and the local grocery (with real food), we flew into Delhi.


As you would expect, our Passage to India began when we arrived in Delhi at 11 PM.  Our Lonely Planet guidebook led us to a bus run by returned servicemen and we took it.  Thank heavens, as we’d heard before and many times since of taxi rides from Hell at huge expense and sometimes unhappy endings.  A fellow traveler told his tale of woe about sharing a ride with a guy who gave him a cookie.  The cookie was drugged and he woke up two days later, broke, disoriented and lying face down in the street. Not an unusual occurance!


We were anxious to get going, so after a brief medical checkup and restocking of our medicine kit, we were off to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal.  The trip was 300 km (180 miles). What was supposed to be a four hour trip took 8 hours. This was actually good time!  Our first experience with the Indian timetable.  But before going to see the Taj, we were off on yet another bus to Fatehpur Sikri.

Fatepur sikri

Fatehpur Sikri is the capital of the Mughal Empire built by Akbar the Great between 1570-1585.  Here in the Jama Masjid (Darga Mosque) is the tomb of the Muslim holy man who promised Akbar a son. If you want one too, just place a thread on the marble screen around his tomb. The white marble tomb is striking in the center of the red sandstone mosque.  The colors and architecture are amazing, and the ruins in excellent condition.  We admired the sunset from the west wall.


In the morning, our gang of foreigners at the hotel hired a guide for several hours ($2.00 for 5 people).  He did a marvelous job transporting us back in time describing the tomb of Akbars favorite elephant, palace for each wife (Portugese, Hindu, Muslim), and the hide and seek room.  The nearby town was our introduction to rural India.  Dirty, disgusting, but interesting (a familiar refrain).


The first night at our hostel we met a Danish couple riding a motorcycle.  They had drove from Calcutta and told us about motorbiking in India and most importantly, and the rules of the road.  A seed was planted.

The Taj

The next day we caught the bus (which only broke down once) back to Agra and settled in the area near the Taj.  From the roof of our hostel we watched the sunset over the Taj.   At street level the area was so dirty you didn’t notice the filth anymore.


Entering the Taj, you see a different world.  Pictures can’t do it justice.  It is truly an amazing place.  Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal as a tomb for his wife Mumtaz who died in childbirth delivering her 15th child.  The Taj and its surrounding structures are an architectural masterpiece built alongside the river and encompassing beautiful gardens.  The tomb is flanked on one side by a Mosque (facing Mecca) and the other side by an identical building (not a Mosque because it is on the wrong side) for symmetry.  The final touch was never created.  It is said that Shah Jahan planned to build a mirror image of the Taj in black marble for his own tomb.  Instead, his son overthrew him and confined him to his living quarters in the old fort.  The story goes that he died there gazing over to his beloved Mumtaz’s memorial.  He is buried there with her.


The next stop was the holy city of Varanasi, A.K.A. “Very-Nasty”.  This is the place you always see in documentaries.  It lies on the River Ganges and is sacred to Hindus.  When it rains everything flows into the street increasing your chances of getting sick.  Everyone gets sick here.


Varanase is considered an auspicious place to die. Needless to say, many people come here for just that purpose.  Mother Theresa’s Order runs a hospice to care for some of them.  Perhaps it was our misfortune to survive.


The waterfront is a true spectacle with Temples, crematories, and bathing “ghats” lining the shore. When the morning light shimmers off the water you find yourself in an ancient golden city.  The steps become crowded with pilgrims of every caste bathing in the Holy Ganges.  The touristy thing do is get up before dawn, go to the river and watch the pilgrims bathe. There are two choices, you can hire a boat or watch from shore.  We did both, joining the hordes of tourists crowding into boats that paddle along side the ghats.  The view was great, but we felt uncomfortable in the boats.  Our guides were practically running the bathers down as they rowed along the bank to stay out of the current. 


It’s not enough to die in this city, your body is paraded through the streets on your way to the funeral. As India has a lot of people (over 900 million), most of whom are Hindus, there is a steady stream of memorials. Along the shores are burning ghats.  Here the bodies of the dead are cremated before returning the ashes (and the parts that didn’t burn) into the river. Your ashes become a part of the river, and a part of all life.  Down stream a bit you can see where the bodies of people who couldn’t afford enough firewood have washed up to be consumed by dogs.  Imagine living your entire life and not having money in the end to afford enough wood to cremate your body.  Talk about poverty….


To get a bit of relief from the spectacle of Varanasi there is Sarnath.  Here the Buddha gave his first sermon on the middle path.  A religious center during the days of the Buddhist conqueror Ashoka, today the area is a center for Buddhist studies. Buddhists from a variety of countries have built monasteries here.  Each building reflects the unique culture of the home country.  The town has beautiful gardens, architecture, and a good museum.  It’s hard to believe you are still in India.  I think the thing to do is stay here and go to Varanase as a side trip.


Buddha has it right I think.  He says that the reason you have strife in your life is because no matter how much you have, you want more.  The idea is to free yourself from want.  When you have done this your life will be free from turmoil.  There is a book out comparing the teachings of Buddha and Christ.  There is even a story that Christ spent his teen years studying in India where he achieved enlightenment, then returned to Israel to teach.  The misconception that many have is the Budhism is necessarily a religion.  Actually it is a way of life that encourages you to seek your own religious destiny.


We spent a week in Varanasi and headed off to Calcutta on a 10 hour train ride.  After 24 hrs on the train with continuous staring by people who thought we had surely fell out of the sky, we arrived in Calcutta.  We were complaining about the horrible delay until we learned that that same night a train went over what should have been a bridge on the route we took.  Thoroughly disgusted by the Indian transportation system and dealing with the masses of humanity, bureaucracy, risk of life and limb, getting to, within, and from the train stations; we decided to either get a motorcycle or leave India.


Indian train travels.


The trains in India are inexpensive and will get you most everywhere, if you have the patience and time.  You need both but not necessarily in that order.  You can go first class AC, where you get air conditioning and the services of the bodyguards of the families travelling with you, or second class.  The difference in price is tenfold.  Of course, we went second-class sleeper.  The problem with this mode of travel is that you just don’t know who will be sharing the space with you.  The locals for some reason like to stare at you constantly.  To the point of where you have concern for their eyes drying up.  We met a woman back in Malaysia who told us about waking up one morning on the train to find a man on the bed across from her with a pair of binoculars.  Just looking. 


There are some really amazing trains in India though.  There is the toy train to Darjeeling (we shared the road back from Darjeeling with it), but the real deal is the “Palace on Wheels”.  This train will take you around Rajastan in surroundings “fit for a Maharaja.”  At $240 per day you can live like one.  Our experiences were less palatial.




We got to Calcutta just a few days after Mother Theresa’s funeral.  The Nation paid tribute to her.  It was interesting mainly because politically they didn’t like her mission and always gave her trouble.  Many of the volunteers who go there get rousted by the Police, who make sure they are not “Volunteering”, which is illegal in India.  In fact the Peace Corps was run out years ago.  I think the Indian Government objected to the attention she brought to the poverty of India.  On a side note, don’t send checks in the mail to Mother Theresas Order in Calcutta.  They don’t make it.


The Bureaucracy


The British built the bureaucracy of India, but it took the Indians to refine it to the level of art.  For proof of the origin, go get a permit to enter Sikkim.  The form was printed before Indian independence (1949) and hasn’t changed since.  For a real treat, you HAVE to go to the post office.  There you will find huge numbers of people doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING while huge numbers of people stand in line waiting for SOMETHING to happen. 


Another friend (when you are on the road, everyone has India stories) was volunteering in Calcutta as a Nurse.  She told her friends at the Clinic that she would take the day off to mail a package.  The laughter began.  “It takes 3 days to mail a package”.  She made for the Post Office.


Mailing a package


To mail a package you must first find a package to put the stuff in.  Usually it is pieces of cardboard that can be shaped into a package.  Any really good boxes already have stuff in them.  You find a store with tape and make your package.  Now the fun starts.  You have to find a “fabric wallah” (wallah is a person who does whatever it is you want) selling a special canvas material to sew around your box.  Once you have found this person you go back to the post office to find the “stitch wallah” who has the string and needle to sew it up for you.  Next you have to find the “seal wallah” who has sealing wax.  A wax seal with a stamp should be applied along all seams to make sure they are not opened before the package reaches its destination.  Having finished with the “wallahs” you enter the jungle.


The first line you are in will inevitably be the wrong one.  You find this out after spending an hour or two in line.  “Oh, the package is going overseas?  You must go to that line”.  A few things to keep in mind.  If the parcel is worth over 1000 Rupees (about $25) you must get a statement from the bank indicating the value.  How you convince them of the value is unknown (good luck).  Also, the parcel contains GIFTS (note use of key word as “gifts” don’t need additional paperwork).  So you have found the correct line.  Problem is, this line is for stamps…  You have to get it weighed (oops).  Maybe you are lucky and get the right line.  Since you have to go through about 4-5 more your luck probably won’t hold up. 


So, you have the paperwork filled out CORRECTLY (don’t expect much help from the civil servants), you have stamps, you have a fully sewn up package.  Now you must attach the stamps.  Is there any paste?  Hope so, because there is not sticky stuff on the stamps.  Not to mention that it will cost you about 2000 Rupees to send it and the stamps are in 50 Rupee denominations.  Hopefully your package is big enough to get them all on.  After dipping into the communal paste vat and applying the stamps to your canvas wrap there is one last bit.  You must watch to make sure that each stamp is cancelled.  50 Rupees ($1.25) is a lot of money in India.  Our friend (and us) did this in less than 1 day.  They had a party, we had a gin-tonic.


We sent 3 packages using this procedure back in September of 97.  We received two of them the following year in April, and the last one in May.  The May package had been opened, our lock cut off our pack, but neatly stitched back.  Nothing was taken so I guess it was inspected at customs.


After our long trip from Varanase, we rested and recuperated from our illnesses.  We didn’t see much of the city.  Mother Theresa’s place was pretty crowded, as her funeral had just finished.  We chilled out a bit at the American Library and found a hotel with AC rooms in the backpacker ghetto of Sudder St. Here we tried to get a second hand motorcycle, but our timing was bad.  No one was leaving through Calcutta this time of year (September).  We struck up a conversation with a guy who had a motorcycle and asked for advice.  He told us about travelling by bike in India and about the bikes available.  Since there were no decent second hand bikes, we got a new one.


The Enfield Bullet


In India, things considered obsolete anywhere else find a new beginning.  Among these are 1950’s British cars, Willis Jeeps, and the Brittish Royal Enfield motorcycle.  The Indians find products no-one else wants; buy the rights, move the factory over, and start making them.  Hardly anything is changed over the years.  The Enfield Bullet is a 350-cc single cylinder motorcycle that looks and sounds like a poor mans Harley.  500 cc models and an “Export” version are also available.  Prices range from about $1300 - $1500 new.  A bargain.


The motorcycle is fairly simple to work on and operate.  The main problem is that they have been assembled in India.  About every 50 km or so you have to stop and tighten all the bolts!  After 500 km the loosening slows a bit.  You have to drive it very slowly for the first 1000 km.  This is no problem as the roads are, shall we say, unpredictable.  We bought some luggage racks and strapped on our bags.  We were ready for action.  After a couple weeks we sent most of our stuff back in the mail, traveling with one-day pack and two small bags about the size of a shopping bag.  We wore helmets, long pants, gloves, glasses, and long sleeve shirts.


Buying the bike is simple enough, next you have to get it registered.   Once again, enter the bureaucratic jungle.  We had been directed by the couple we met in Fatepur Sikri to go to the DMV office and look up the boss, who would be helpful.  He was, but the scene in the office was hysterical.  There on old shelves lie every motor vehicle registration paper for the city of Calcutta and probably the whole State of West Bengal.  They were literally crammed onto shelves.  It looked like each paper had been placed in someones front pocket for at few days prior to “filing”.  Somehow or another, we managed to initiate the process anyway.  Whether this bike will ever really get registered is anyone’s guess.


We enjoyed ourselves for a couple more days and hooked up with Fred, a photographer from Sweden.  We had been discussing bike purchases with him and he had been giving us advice.  Fred is an old hand about India, making a living by taking photos of India and Nepal for the last 15 years.  If you want a photo of India, Fred’s got it.  Fred had never been to Sikkim and was heading that way.  Over a bottle of rum we decided to join him.




Getting there is half the fun.  Basically you have to get to Calcutta and take the train North to Siliguri.  From there a jeep/bus takes you in, or you can take the “Toy Train”.  Before leaving Calcutta we obtained the necessary permits.  India gets weird about giving any information about its borders.  Sikkim is up between Tibet, Nepal, and Bhutan, so they are especially paranoid.  Sikkim is one of the natural invasion routes into India through the Himalayas. 


Security is tight.  Security is such an issue that you can’t get a map of the area while in India!  In India, maps of areas within 200 km of any border (like the entirety of Sikkim) are classified. The Internet map referenced at the front of this entry has a better map than you can buy in all of India for the border regions.  For that matter, your local bookstore probably has the same.  They also get fussy about exactly where the borders are drawn as the borders with China and Pakistan are disputed.  It would probably be best if you didn’t advertise the fact you have a map.


As there are many foreigners riding motorcycles around India, Lonely Planet sells an India roadmap that is pretty good with the main roads, though fuzzy near the borders.


We loaded the bike on a train in Calcutta to save 800 km of driving.  The ride to Siliguri was all night and most of the next day.  We unloaded the bikes and emptied our smuggled gas bottles (plastic soda bottles) into the bikes as a crowd gathered to watch.  We revved the engines and rode around to please the crowd before making for the petrol station.  The Indians are great people.  We filled up and found a hotel, and rested for an early start the next day.  We rode north on a glorious morning.




Our first destination was Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim and a good base to explore the many monasteries in the area.  This part of India is very different than the rest.  The population is Sikkanese with a lot of Nepalese coming over for work.  These people are much more Oriental than the Indians in general.  Way back when, the British made the rulers of Sikkim an offer they could not refuse (apparently a specialty), and the area was annexed into the rest of India.  During the Chinese invasion of India around 1959, the locals sympathized with the Chinese and the Indians took notice.  After that time they started paying attention to the area.  Having rode through these areas, the only reason India controls them today is because the Brittish controlled these areas from Delhi.  The people here and over towards Burma (Myanmar) have little in common with most Indians.


For a little history, the Chinese crushed the Indian army during the ‘59 war, taking most of the strategic high ground in the Himalayas.  For some reason they stopped.  It really surprised the Indians, as it would have been easy for the Chinese to take the rest of India.  I figure that the Russians, Brittish, and Americans had a few things to say, but they are probably just waiting for a better time.


The trip to Gangtok was relatively uneventful.  The roads were good except for one landslide, which was passable though the road had about 6 inches of mud on it.  At least I got to find out if the packs were balanced.  It was drizzling and we were taking it slow, running in the bike.  Starting off in the plains and passing through jungle (the same one in the Jungle book) as the mountains rose around us.  We crossed over numerous streams that were busily washing out the road, and went over bridges crossing steep gorges and rushing rivers.  This was hard country but the roads were pretty good.  We crossed over to Sikkim and got one more stamp in the passport.  The sky was clearing and the ride was excellent.  We made Gangtok late in the afternoon and found a good hotel.


Gangtok was built the old fashioned way, a defensible position.  Very hard to negotiate if you are a rookie to motorcycle riding.  Most of the roads are paved former footpaths and almost vertical.  The really steep parts required a lot of momentum when you started, or you got to try again.  Especially with two of us on the bike.  Motorcycle Riding 10l. 


Local Monasteries


We checked out the local Enchey monastery and the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology.  The Institute was built in 1958 (what a coincidence) and has a big collection of Buddhist texts and Thankas (Tibetan cloth paintings common in this area).  The grounds were beautiful, and you could walk through the Library and look at the old texts.  A lot of the books were very old, hand copied by hand onto palm leaves.  The books were long and narrow as each page was a palm leaf.  An amazing place.  Down the road was the monastery with lots of young novices who liked to watch us come and go on our motorcycle.  Late in the afternoon you could go there and wait for the end of prayer when everyone would come out and walk around the chorten (kind of like a monument) spinning the prayer wheels.


If you have too many children up here, you just take the extras down to the Monastery where they will be cared for and trained to become Monks or Nuns.  This way the Monastery gets fresh recruits and the children learn how to read and write (something they wouldn’t learn if they stayed with their families) along with a long list of daily chores.


Prayer wheels

Prayer wheels are common at Buddhist monasteries.  Each wheel is filled with prayers written on small pieces of paper.  Each time the wheel is spun (clockwise), you get credit for saying the number of prayers inside.  Wheels come in all sizes, from hand held ones you spin while walking to huge ones 20 feet tall containing tens of thousands of prayers.  The really big ones are spun with waterwheels like a millstone.  Along with prayer wheels are prayer flags.  Monasteries and high mountain passes have prayer flags.  The flags have prayers written on them and flutter in the breeze giving flight to your invocations.



Here we had our introduction to Chang or as the Nepalis call it Tongba.  Basically it is the juice of partially fermented millet.  It is served in barbarian style wooden mugs.  They give you a straw to suck the liquid out, though a mustache works too.  The taste is pretty nice.  It’s an all night drink as you keep refilling the tankard until the liquid is no longer cloudy.  It’s a great accompanyment in a dimly lit himalayan kitchen/dining area.  All you need is an unidentifiable piece of roasted beast to gnaw on. If you want a buzz, though, you’d better get something else to chase it.


The hotel was mostly empty, so we had the whole floor to ourselves.  We placed furniture out on one of the balconies at the end of the hall were we would have our meals and tea.  The view was magnificent.  The hotel’s “boy” was always handy to fetch breakfast, beer, and the occasional beedies and cigarettes for Fred.  The living was good, but we decided to get adventurous anyway.


North of Gangtok

Our first attempt at heading off without Fred was the Phodang Monastery 40 km north of Gangtok.  About 10 km out of town we encountered the largest landslide I have ever seen.  It was so big the road had to switchback on the landslide!  We managed to make it down the “road” paved with softball sized rocks, congratulating ourselves on the accomplishment.  Of course it wasn’t till we were down that we thought about getting back up.  Too late to change our minds we headed on.  After a while of passing through small villages with no petrol we realized that we should have filled the gas tank up before leaving Gangtok.  Lesson learned.  Always fill up when you leave town.  We turned back without making it as there was no assurance of petrol (at least any the natives would sell to us) and we were running low on fuel and time.


Things always look smaller when you are at the top.  Mel walked up the landslide, and I learned the hard way how to start a heavy bike while on a steep incline.  By the time I got the bike to the top it was nearly overheated.  We hung out for a while as it cooled, making it back in time for chang and dinner.




Continuing our tour of Sikkim, the three of us headed out towards the Rumtek monastery.  This is one of the more important and beautiful monasteries in the area and houses a Buddhist academy.  Plaques are engraved with the names of sponsors from all over the world who have donated money including many from the USA. 


Wouldn’t you know it but Politics have even made it here.  The monastery was recently taken over by a different sect of Buddhists.  I forget if it the red hats or the yellow ones.  Anyway, the displaced Monks and Lamas are down the street at a smaller place.  Here at Rumtek we explored the grounds and stayed at a nice hotel.  Here we got pictures of a colorful Monastery in the clouds and spectacular shots of rice terraced fields looking like a mozaic.  From the rim of the Monastery you could see Gangtok.  After a few days taking pictures, we headed on to Pemayantse Monastery.




The ride to Pemayantse (By the way these places can be located on the web at the Microsoft Expedia Maps site) was spectacular.  We rode through the countryside through valleys and over mountain ridges.  The roads are narrow, but surprisingly good.  We had to cross a number of streams, but fortunately the rainy season was mostly over by now (September).  Villages and farms dotted the landscape.  The cultivation was pretty extensive, but not quite to the levels of China (where EVERY inch is cultivated).  We stopped occasionally to rest the bikes and take it all in.  This is really a spectacular place to come riding.  As we were getting close Fred rode on ahead.  Unfortunately for us our bike started acting up….


Near the town of Gyalshing the bike gave out.  We tinkered with it for a couple of hours and had one of those experiences you can only get in the third world.  As we were resting, we saw a man crawling down the road.  We had just come that way and it was a mile or two back to the nearest town and about half a mile to the next.  This fellow had no use of his legs and could only drag the curled up appendages along the gravel road.  He sat with us for 30 minutes, looking, then slid off.  We didn’t feel so bad about our situation.


It took about 2 hrs to figure that the carburator was clogged with dirt (of course these bikes don’t have fuel filters).  Fortunately the “bullet” was designed in a era where simplicity was rarely compromised and we managed to get it going again.




The Pemayantse “perfect sublime lotus” Monastery is 1 ridge away from Kachemjunga, the 2nd highest mountain in the world.  Early risers get dramatic views of the mountain.  We stayed for a few days and got some incredible shots in the morning and evening.  The mountain seemed so close you could reach out and touch it.  There was once a kingdom based here and the ruins are nearby.  We spent an afternoon there looking for good angles to shoot Pemayantse and avoiding leeches…. 


About a mile away up a trail is the Sangachoeling Monastery, the second oldest in Sikkim.  This Monastery appears to be devoted to sex.  It is a Buddhist monastery, but there is a lot going on inside.  Here are some ancient paintings of Buddhist deities, indulging in the pleasures of the flesh.  Monasteries are almost always in strategic defensible sites.  This one had changed hands a few times.  Evidently one of the groups who had the place used to place their dead out on the rocks for the animals to scavenge.  They felt that their bodies were too unclean for the earth and disposed of the flesh by letting the birds and dogs have at it.  There are a few religions in India and Nepal where this practice continues today.  We stayed for the sunset.


Fred has traveled around quite a bit through the mountains of Nepal and North Western India and he told us one story of a monastery he had hiked up to.  He found the monks catching fish and taking them up to the monastery.  They said some prayers over them before releasing them back to the river.  It is really amazing what you will find in these parts if you take the time to look.  After a couple days we started the leisurely ride to Darjeeling.




The ride was beautiful, the roads good, and the scenery spectacular.  We were making great time when Mel and I had our first spill on the bike.  We took a corner too fast and went off the pavement.  Not usually a problem unless there is a mud hole.  The bike stopped and we didn’t.  Fred came back and helped us right the bike.  Fortunately we were still in one piece.  From here I was more careful. 


We crossed a river leaving Sikkim and started up the back road to Darjeeling.  The road runs through tea plantations with spectacular scenery.  After a while it became evident why this is the back way to Darjeeling.  The road got so steep that the bike couldn’t make it up with both of us on it.  Mel got off and started walking.  Unfortunately it was steep for quite a ways and Mel had to walk up hill for about 3 hours.


Darjeeling is a great place to visit.  It is reasonably clean (for India) and always cool.  Cooler than Calcutta anyway.  The Brittish built it as an R&R station to escape the heat of Calcutta.  Spring and Fall are the best times.  Kachemjunga and the whole of the Himalayas are spread out before you each morning.  It is a tourist town, so there are plenty of nice (enough) hotels, good restaurants, and lots of tea.  We settled in nicely.  Here we explored the local attractions including Tiger hill and the Tibetan Refugee center.


From Tiger Hill (2590m) you can see Darjeeling with a background of Kachemjunga, and a panarama of snow capped Himalaya.  You could even see Pemayantse and the Sangachoeling Monasteries.   It was festival time (EVERY time is festival time in India it seems) and on the way we passed bands of people dressed in white robes singing as they walked to the top.  We got up at around 4:30 for the sunrise though people had been walking for hours already.  The early morning wake up was well worth it as we got tremendous views of the mountains.  Even Everest’s white peak could be seen pointing high above the rest.


Tibetan Refugee Center


We spent a day at the Tibetan Refugee Center and were sure glad we did.  Since Chinese took over Tibet, refugees stream out at various rates into India and Nepal to escape persecution (and continue the process of breathing).  Even today, many still hike over the snow covered passes at 5000 meters.  Here they live in small settlements and operate the refugee center to retain their culture, care for the elderly and otherwise support themselves. 


All the products at the center are completely hand made.  The wool is hand carded, spun, and dyed.  We bought some sweaters, shawls, wool items, and a Tibetan rug.  The rug is our favorite.  These are made by hand, but unlike the Persian rugs, they are not stitched as tight.  Instead of metal hammers to pack the threads, they use wood.  We spent the day watching them make all kinds of crafts.  There were looms of all shapes and sizes with rooms devoted to spinning.  It was like a room full of Tibetan Rumpelstilskins.


There are looms of all sizes to make multicolored cloth strips anywhere from ½ inch to about 3 feet wide.  Some are set upright and others strapped to the wall and an ancient Tibetan.  If it is woven from wool they will make it.  You can select one of their patterns or you can bring your own.  Sample carpets are kept in sizes of about 3X6 feet; however, they will scale to any size.  The factory is really a sight to see as you have Tibetans aged from about 16 to 96 working on various projects from carding wool to stitching dolls.  Kids are running everywhere.  The Tibetans really have a different look from the Chinese or Nepalese, almost like Native Americans.  I think they are closely related. 


We spent about a week in Darjeeling and decided it was time to head for Nepal.  We rode back to Siliguri with Fred and made plans to see him again in Delhi a month later.  We saw him off and spent a wonderful night in Siliguri watching a Hindu parade taking some Idols down to the river for ritual bathing.  We were on our own with the bike making plans to travel to Nepal.


India Part 1 Photos




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